Robynne Edgar inspires physical literacy in B.C.’s Indigenous communities

Robynne Edgar inspires physical literacy in B.C.’s Indigenous communities

“It’s never too late to start.”

This is the motto that guides Robynne Edgar in her own life and in her work as the director of Healthy Living Activities at the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council (ISPARC), an organization that inspires healthy living in British Columbia’s Indigenous communities.

A former beach volleyball national champion, Robynne continues to pursue her own physical literacy training with some recent passions like basketball and mountain biking. But she is the first to say that striving for physical wellness is not just about participating in sports.

“Physical literacy is encouraging an active-for-life lifestyle,” she explains.

And for Robynne, it’s a message that transcends generations, resonating with elders and children alike through the hundreds of healthy living projects created by ISPARC. Cree and a citizen of the Metis Nation of B.C., Robynne has worked in Aboriginal health for over 13 years. For the last four, she has been involved in ISPARC initiatives, such as regional leader training sessions, Aboriginal RunWalk programs and FitNation, which have reached more than 28,000 participants across the province.

A driving force behind its success is the idea that physical activity must be combined with culture.

“Culture is the number one thing we talk about with our Aboriginal youth — what do you want to know more about? It’s always culture. I believe it always comes back to that,” she explains.

Robynne also studies traditional medicines and gathering practices. Participating in and learning more about the traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, dancing, and food collecting provide opportunities for young and old in both urban and remote communities to weave culture back into physical literacy training.

“We jump to pick fir tips, we squat to harvest seaweed, throw to cast a fishing rod, we’ve been physically literate forever,” explains Robynne. “We’ve just never labeled it in that way.”

“Our people used to be the healthiest of them all when practicing these traditional activities,” she continues. “I think that we are now getting our communities back to health.”

To date, ISPARC has trained more than 1,500 Healthy Living Leaders, who act as role models, leading programs in their communities, schools, band offices, and health centres. While much of the focus lies on child and youth, many of the healthy living leaders are community elders who still live traditionally.

“(Elders) still go out into the bush to do cedar pulling,” explains Robynne. “They are stomping through really deep areas in the forest. It’s a very physical task.” (See for yourself how active foraging is in the video below; jump to 2:40.)

Often the reasons for which the older generation want to be physically active or literate is to spend more time with their kids and grandchildren.

“We hear stories about grandfathers who are not very mobile and now their grandchildren are having a hard time keeping up to them,” says Robynne, pointing to the Aboriginal RunWalk project as one example. The annual program helps individuals gradually build fitness levels and increase stamina in preparation for a 10K running or walking event. Since 2007, over 9,000 participants in 400-plus communities have been involved across the province.

Walking can lead to so many other things.

“That’s the first success story,” explains Robynne. “Then comes eating more healthy, then they may stop smoking. It always leads other better habits.”

For youth, the mom-of-two knows that creating physically literate children is about being inclusive and incorporating fun hands-on activities. With her own children, she has taken the advice from an elder, learning how to “hide” the physical literacy training in everyday life. When out walking with her family, she’ll incorporate games like catching falling leaves, having berry wars, or skipping stones as strategies to improve core strength, balance, and hand-eye coordination.

“The key piece is to just let people have fun and experience it themselves. Then they can make the connections and make it relevant to their own communities.”

Robynne hopes one day to develop a children’s book on physical literacy for Indigenous communities.

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